“When making this album, I really wanted the songs to touch hearts. Music has always been a companion to me, particularly on special occasions. I wanted there to be a mix of songs that would flow with all our moods this holiday season. As much as the season is a time for reflection, it is also a time for fun and enjoyment with those closest to us all.” Source.
Don’t fret – Susan Boyle knows her audience and while she takes on some songs that are outside of the usual holiday collections and aren’t in the style or genres you’d expect from her, she never strays far from what’s made her stand out. The Gift is musically consistent. Sure, there are a few weak points and songs that aren’t as interesting or strong as the others, she delivers some great vocal performances and good covers of old and familiar songs.
“Perfect Day” stands out on the album as being one of the lightest, most original tracks. While the rest of the album feels a bit quiet and subdued, “Perfect Day” is whimsical and builds into a catchy chorus-accompanied ending. The first covering of a holiday standard occurs with “O Holy Night”. Here we’re treated to Boyle finally hitting a few heavenly high notes. The arrangement is pretty close to what you’d expect from this holiday classic. “O Come All Ye Faithful” stands out as one of the albums’ better tracks because it is mostly A capella. This allows for Boyle’s voice to really shine and stand out and the chorus that backs her up never tries to out do her. There’s a great balance struck between her voice and theirs and it makes for a great performance all together.
“Make Me a Channel Of Your Peace” was the first track that I really didn’t like. Vocally it feels like she’s talking rather than singing on the track and it starts off with a rather irritating whispering/muttering. Overall, it’s just a slow, dull, dragging track that’s more likely to put you to sleep than it is to stir up any emotion within you. It improves just slightly toward the end when the volume turns up a bit but not enough to save the song. “Hallelujah” is one of the album’s musical treats because this being a holiday-themed album, you automatically expect to hear Boyle singing Handel’s “Hallelujah” in all its magnificent classical glory. Think again because this is instead Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” and Boyle does a great job taking on this modern standard. Similar to the covers of pop hits she did on her first album, she takes the song and puts her own gentle, powerful spin on it. Her voice conveys more emotion, feeling and enthusiasm for the lyrics on this track than on the previous ones. Since the start of the album I’d been waiting to hear her really break out of the quiet/somber whispering she seems to do a lot of and finally on “Hallelujah” she lets loose and it’s definitely one of the album’s high points.
“The First Noel” goes back to the holiday-themed music. This track is just Boyle being backed up by a guitar at the start which makes for a nice stripped down performance. A chorus comes in towards the end and I wish she’d done the entire track by herself because the chorus at the end doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose and distracts momentarily from Boyle. Then comes another unexpected cover – Boyle takes on Crowded Circus’ “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and really does a remarkable job with it. Again, it’s not a rock/pop as the original but that’s good because Boyle took this well-covered and well-known track and turned it into an emotional ballad. I liked the switching of the styles and new perspective that comes with Boyle’s interpretation and feel it stands out, like “Hallelujah” as one of the album’s best offerings.
“Do You Hear What I Hear” is a duet with Amber Stassi. The arrangement is pretty straightforward and what you’d expect and I felt Boyle and Stassi’s voice blended well together to the point where you really aren’t aware this is a duet but the harmonizing at the end is a nice touch. “Away in a Manager” is definitely a unique arrangement from the standard many will be used to. Instead of it starting out with Boyle it instead features a young male solo. Once Boyle comes in, she’s doing her annoying habit of whispering or singing in a raspy voice that really doesn’t do her or the song much justice. The albums ends with “Auld Lang Syne” and like most of the album, Susan Boyle goes for a more sentimental angle than a festive one as you might expect. Her voice is strong on the track and while she doesn’t truly strike out and let her voice go and hit all the high notes you’d expect, perhaps it’s her restraint and the tension that makes this a memorable performance.
As stated before, though this album is pretty short (it clocks in at around 35 minutes) and short, it’s consistent and a decent follow-up to her highly praised debut album. One thing I felt was missing from The Gift was the one or two tracks where she just lets loose and shows off her range. I thought back to the first albums’ “Who I Was Born To Be” and “Proud” that just wowed and floored me with her ability to go from tame and timid to loud and powerful in a short period of time. Upon first listen I felt The Gift’s tracks were all performed very similarly as if she were told to start off soft and hold back. It felt as if there were so many moments in the album and songs for her to really show off but instead she held back or was restrained and it left me as a listener wanting a bit more out of her. The albums’ best tracks aren’t necessarily the holiday themed ones but the unexpected cover songs. It’s on those that she gives her best performances and gave me the impression that she wasn’t entirely invested in the seasonal-themed music.
Listen To These: “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” “Hallelujah,” “Auld Lang Syne”
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